Tag Archives: Silverpoint

Drawing With Silver

1 Jul

03-silverpoint

There’s a new exhibition coming up at The British Museum this Autumn – drawings in metalpoint. These are drawings made with silver or gold onto specially prepared paper, a technique used before the invention of graphite pencils. I did some work in Silverpoint a while back (above), drawing directly from a life model.

The tool is a smooth barrel of wood like an etching needle but the point is a piece of silver wire, 99% pure. It can be used flat or as a very sharp point, but you have to be accurate because it can’t be rubbed out. Renaissance artists didn’t use the technique for quick scribbling, it was for careful studies. The paper has to be coated with a special Silverpoint Medium; I don’t know what’s in the modern version, but back in the day it was made from finely ground bone mixed with animal glue. When it’s dry, you draw the fine silver point across the paper and the bone drags molecules of the metal off and in a few seconds it tarnishes. This means that you can’t see the line you’ve drawn until the tarnish appears.

da vinci

Leonardo da Vinci’s Bust Of A Warrior in metalpoint

The British Museum is just up the road from my all time favourite artist suppliers, Cornelissen & Son, so I could combine a visit to the exhibition with a shopping trip to Cornelissen to buy silverpoint materials. Now that sounds like a plan 😀

Drawing With Silver

3 May

Portrait in silverpoint.

I’m very lucky to have been invited to study on an intensive two-day course in Renaissance drawing. Today was day 1 and I did some work in Silverpoint. I’d heard about it and admired reproductions but I’d never seen a Silverpoint tool before. The handle is a smooth barrel of wood like an etching needle but the point is a piece of silver wire, apparently 99% pure. It can be used flat or as a very sharp point, but you have to be accurate because it can’t be rubbed out. It seems that Renaissance artists didn’t use the technique for quick scribbling, it was for careful studies. The paper is coated with a special Silverpoint Medium; I don’t know what’s in the modern one, but back in the day it was supposedly ground bone in some sort of animal glue. Nothing wasted eh?

The drawing room was very full so I moved in close to the model. She wore a wig which had been elaborately plaited – daVinci was particularly fond of drawing plaits. I loved it. It helps that I normally draw directly in ink, without sketching in pencil first, so I had the confidence to get stuck in without worrying too much about accuracy. It’s a small drawing, about A5 onto prepared hand-made paper and took about 20 minutes.  I like the technique so much I might put a Silverpoint tool in my letter to Santa. 🙂

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